Bring back the English option

Besides government and vernacular schools, giving students an additional mode of learning will help improve their command of the language and increase their standing in the future.

TAKING one step at a time, parents who support the reintroduction of English-medium schools are fighting to get their voices heard.

Monash University Sunway Campus Assoc Prof Dr Lan Boon Leong who founded the Parents for English-Medium National-Type Schools (PENS) group in 2011 has collected close to 1,600 votes in his online survey on this topic.

Among the questions asked in the survey include the first language of the children and their ethnicity.

“Ethnicity does not always play a part in the first language of a child. For instance, the first language of a child growing up in a Malay family can be English since it is the language the child has been exposed to since young.

“For this reason, I prefer to use the term ‘first language’ rather than ‘mother tongue’,” says Dr Lan.

He believes that mixed marriages and a variety of reasons have contributed to a growing number of children whose first language is English.

Just as other children are able to study in their first language — Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin and Tamil in national and vernacular schools — Dr Lan says children whose first language is English should be learning in English.

“The primary level is a very crucial period in the schooling years of a child,” he says.

He adds that children who have grown up speaking English will no doubt have problems understanding lessons in classes if they have to learn it in a new language that they are unfamiliar with.

“They may be able to memorise the phrases but they may not be as good when it comes to writing essays in a language that is not their first language.”

Going back to history, most English-medium primary schools in the country had changed to Malay-medium schools by 1975, while the conversion for the secondary level was completed by 1983.

Schools in Sabah and Sarawak meanwhile, only started the conversion process in the mid-1970s.

by Kang Soon Chen and Priya Kulasagaran.

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